Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have started transmitting a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in Mars in an attempt at getting the 15-year-old rover to re-establish contact with Earth
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The team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have started transmitting a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in Mars. The commands are aimed at getting the 15-year-old rover to re-establish contact with Earth following the planet-wide dust storm that covered the solar-powered rover’s location last year. The new commands will be beamed to the rover over the next several weeks and will address low-likelihood events that could have occurred aboard Opportunity, which could be preventing it from transmitting. Opportunity’s last communication with Earth was received on June 10 last year.
"We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover," stated John Callas, Project Manager for Opportunity at JPL. "These new command strategies are in addition to the 'sweep and beep' commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September." With "sweep and beep," instead of just listening for Opportunity, the project sends commands to the rover to respond back with a beep.
The new strategies are designed to address three possible scenarios. This includes the possibility that the rover’s primary X-band radio has failed, or the primary and secondary X-band radios have failed, or the rover’s internal clock is offset. NASA’s press statement notes that a series of unlikely events would need to have transpired for any of these faults to occur. The commands being sent to the rover include one for switching to backup X-band radio, as well as commands to reset the clock and respond via UHF.
"Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times," said Callas. "While we have not heard back from the rover and the probability that we ever will is decreasing each day, we plan to continue to pursue every logical solution that could put us back in touch."
The statement also notes that time is of the essence. The “dust-clearing season” which is the Martian time of the year when high winds were expected to clear dust from the rover’s solar panels. The dust is believed to be preventing Opportunity from charging its batteries. On top of that, the Martian Winter is expected to begin soon and the low temperatures might cause irreparable harm to an unpowered rover’s batteries., internal wiring and/or computer systems.
If these commands generate a response, then the engineers will attempt a recovery. If not, then the project team will have to consult with the Mars program Office at JPL and NASA headquarters to determine the next step.
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